This syndicated post originally appeared at Network World Zeus Kerravala.

If Extreme Networks and NRG Stadium can get
Wi-Fi to work flawlessly during a Super Bowl,
all businesses should be able to do it

Super Bowl LI will be remembered for a number of things. The Patriots had the largest comeback in Super Bowl history. Like all Atlanta sports teams, the Falcons choked when it mattered most. Also, Tom Brady won his fifth Super Bowl to cement his place as the second greatest QB of all time, behind the illustrious Joe Montana. 

More importantly though, Super Bowl LI was the most connected and engaged sporting event to date, as the fans in NRG Stadium in Houston appeared to be very busy using their phones to take pictures, Tweet, Facebook, send messages and other activities.

A year ago, I wrote a post about how the network performed for Super Bowl 50, so I thought it would be worth looking at how things changed between then and now.

How the Wi-Fi in NRG Stadium performed

As was the case with the previous two big games, Extreme Networks was the official Wi-Fi analytics provider of the Super Bowl, and its ExtremeAnalytics engine captured several interesting data points, including the following:

  • Network-connected devices generated 11.8 TB of total data transferred across the Wi-Fi network, well up from 10.12 in Super Bowl 50. As far as I know, this is a record for any kind of sporting event. Data growth has been exponential, as the nearly 12 TB of this year is almost ten times the amount of traffic from Super Bowl XLVIII just three years ago.
  • Social networking generated 1.7 TB of data, with Facebook and Snapchat being the lion’s share. The volume of social networking data was up a whopping 55 percent from last year, which is interesting given Super Bowl 50 was in the heart of Silicon Valley where it would seem social usage would have been artificially high.
  • The total number of connected Wi-Fi users was over 35,000, which is about half of total capacity of the bowl. The more interesting stat, though, is that at its peak there were over 27,000 concurrent users, which is a 41 percent increase from Super Bowl 50 and double the number of connected users from three years ago.

Quality Wi-Fi experience expected

A quality Wi-Fi experience is no longer a nice amenity for a few fans. Rather it’s an absolute necessity because everyone expects to have Wi-Fi that doesn’t get in the way. The NFL actually won’t award a Super Bowl to a city if the stadium doesn’t run the latest and greatest technology. Stadiums are challenging for vendors in that each location is a unique and large, complex environment.

As I mentioned earlier, Extreme Networks provided the Wi-Fi and wireless analytics, but it is also the wired backbone—making NRG Stadium the first stadium to run a complete Extreme Networks solution. And it appears, based on the stats, that the network performed as well as the New England Patriots did.

The NRG deployment is a good example of what’s possible with the right engineering and network infrastructure. It continually amazes me when a hotel with 3,000 people or even a retail store with only 30 people can’t get Wi-Fi right. I mentioned how great quality Wi-Fi is expected now in the sports and entertainment industry, but that’s true for almost all businesses today.

Shoppers in stores, students at college, passengers at an airport and visitors in hospitals all expect to be able to get online easily and with a Wi-Fi network that works. I’ve heard lot of excuses from network mangers in different businesses that Wi-Fi doesn’t work well because the environment is tough—the building has too much concrete, is old or some other reason. The fact is, all of these excuses are just that, excuses. If Extreme Networks and NRG Stadium can work together to get Wi-Fi to work flawlessly during a Super Bowl, there’s no reason it can’t perform that way everywhere.

The stats from the Super Bowl are certainly interesting, but network managers should look at them to realize that great Wi-Fi is possible with the right technology and choice of partners.

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Zeus Kerravala

Zeus Kerravala is the founder and principal analyst with ZK Research. Kerravala provides a mix of tactical advice to help his clients in the current business climate and long term strategic advice.
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